- Associated Press - Friday, March 19, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Grocery store employees, home caregivers, farm workers, other essential workers and people over 60 are now eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine in New Mexico.

The state Health Department announced Friday it was moving to new phases of its distribution plan. The move comes as New Mexico and other states aim to meet a federal mandate of getting more people vaccinated by May.

New Mexico has administered more than 1 million shots and remains ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for vaccine distribution based on population and efficiency.

“We’ve made extraordinary progress in a very short time - and we intend to keep going,” Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said in a statement. “We look forward to offering vaccine to every New Mexican who wants it.”

State officials said they were able to open up eligibility now that New Mexico has reached a key milestone: more than 60% of those already eligible - health care workers, nursing home staff and residents, teachers, older residents and those with chronic conditions - have received at least their first shot.

Another factor was that vaccine providers in many parts of the state were no longer able to find eligible New Mexicans to fill appointments. State officials said those in the earlier groups will still be prioritized, but providers now have the option of inviting more New Mexicans when they can’t fill appointments.

Collins said the state will continue its efforts to vaccinate seniors and others who were eligible as part of the early phases but have yet to get their shots.

More than 1.6 million New Mexicans are eligible, according to state data. More than 22% have been fully vaccinated so far. More than one-third have received their first shot, including a majority of resident 75 and older who have registered.

State officials said nearly all of the rest of the seniors have been notified to schedule an appointment.

The general public is expected to be added to the list in mid to late April, officials said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday visited a vaccination clinic at Kewa Pueblo, formerly known as Santo Domingo Pueblo. She praised the work of the pueblo and state health officials, celebrating that one in three New Mexicans have had at least their first shot.

The Santo Domingo Health Center has expanded vaccination operations beyond the local tribal community and was planning to give about 130 shots Saturday, said Dave Panana, chief operations officer for Kewa Pueblo Health Corp. He said more than 4,300 shots have been administered so far.

At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, officials planned a vaccination and food distribution drive-thru event Saturday for urban Native Americans who had appointments.

To reach underserved areas, the Health Department is sending out mobile vaccination units.

Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Laura Parajón said during a briefing this week that the team visited Luna and Dona Ana counties, which were identified as areas with higher populations of minorities and those who are more vulnerable due to socio-economic conditions. Parts of northern and northwestern New Mexico also are high on the vulnerability list.

“We’re really working hard to make sure the people who need it the most are getting the vaccines that they need,” Parajón said. “But of course it’s slow. We need to be patient because we are getting only a certain allocation a week.”

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